Let's get into it: Hair care on campus
While it is true that the Black community is not a monolith, there is value in highlighting our shared Black experiences, as they unite us as a people.
Yet, even within our similarities, there are differences that make us unique from one another, with hair care being a prime example. As a Black student on campus with locs, hair care is very important to me. Being from Atlanta, I’m used to beauty supply stores being no more than 10-15 minutes away, and my local stores carrying any hair products or even viable substitutes that I would need. Once I arrived on campus, I quickly realized that I don’t have the same access to the products I need as I did before.
The Hoot Market sells a limited amount of hair products, most of which aren’t suitable for Black hair textures. The closest beauty supply store to campus is 14 minutes away and largely caters to non-textured hair, as seen in an ad I found for a Sally Beauty store in Waltham. More inclusive beauty supply stores can be found 30 minutes from Brandeis, yet it is expensive to make trips across town for regular hair maintenance about every four weeks.
A semester is about 15 weeks long, so divide that by four and you get 3.75 trips across town for adequate hair care products. At roughly $60 for a round trip, the cost comes out to about $225 just in transportation to get the supplies you would need if you’re not stockpiling. Additionally, some stores will lock up natural hair care products, leaving other products on the shelf unlocked. The idea that only these hair products — ones that are specifically for curlier hair — are the only ones that need to be locked up is extremely off putting.
For many college students, this is unrealistic timewise and money wise, especially for those who come from low-income families or don’t have jobs on campus. This is why it is extremely important that universities do what they can to make sure all students have the access they need to amenities for all hair care types. This is a widespread issue, but not one without a solution.
According to a 2022 Business Insider article, two students at the University of Michigan noticed the same issue among their Black peers; it was very hard to find hair products on or near campus. Together, they hatched a business plan to create a vending machine that distributed haircare products specifically for Black students so they wouldn’t have to leave campus in order to find the tools to do their hair.
This is an example of what inclusivity looks like, and a great step that can be taken to help Black students at a predominantly white institution feel considered. When you’re moving far from home, there’s so much to pack that it is easy to forget little necessities, which is why the convenience store is there to supply those things. Just like no one wants to drive 30 minutes just to get some toothpaste, no one wants to drive 30 minutes to grab shampoo and conditioner that won’t be damaging to their hair. It would make all the difference if we were to incorporate this innovative vending machine idea on campus or at least see hair products and tools that are specifically for Black hair types in the Hoot Market.
Hair care is extremely important, no matter who you are. It factors into how people perceive you, the opinions they form on you, and how they treat you going forward. Ask Brandeis’ own Mirabell Rowland ’25 about her hair journey to understand just how essential hair is. It is important to remember that people of color have been subject to discrimination in schools and in the workplace simply because of how their hair looks. This is where the line is crossed from hair simply being something to enhance your appearance to being something that determines your lifestyle. When Black hair is politicized, we see Black women getting fired from their jobs and enduring slick comments in the workspace. We see Black girls straightening their hair multiple times a week and even getting expelled from school on the basis of their hair.
Having access to affordable hair care tools is important, especially when you’re learning to live on your own during college. Aside from the huge natural haircare brands like Mielle and Shea Moisture that just might not be affordable for college students, there are a couple of affordable and safe options that are viable alternatives: African Pride, Hair Food, Hask, Redken, Pureology, and Moroccan Oil. All of these brands have products that are safe, affordable, and healthy for curlier hair. While we might not have access to these products in or around campus as of right now, all of these products are available on Amazon.
On campus, The Multicultural Hair, Art, and Empowerment Club is a great resource to learn more about Black hair care, product affordability, and to connect with other people with natural hair at Brandeis. The club aims to “fight against hair discrimination and embrace hair diversity. We plan to have movie nights, discussions, other bonding activities, and events to learn about protective styles for your hair, the best products to use etc,” according to club treasurer Mirabell Rowland.
Brandeis was founded on ideals of social justice and inclusivity, created as a place of higher education for ethnic and racial minorities who faced discrimination elsewhere. Making natural hair products available on campus will be a first step toward encouraging students on campus to embrace their identities. It is only right that we as a school continue to uphold these ideals by constantly improving to make sure students of all backgrounds — and hair types — feel embraced and at home on campus.